Obama’s Emissions Changes?


A lively new topic amongst technicians in our trade has popped up over President Obama’s moves to apparently move vehicle emission standards emphasis from the Federal to the State level.

Click here for the news-story.

Most everyone agrees that emission controls are necessary.  Having different configurations based on a vehicle’s original state of purchase will be hard on manufacturers and owners alike.

This topic reminds me of this story:

One morning on my drive to work I stopped within a block of a gas station.  I was slapped in the face with a strong smell of raw fuel vapors.  As I got closer to the station I could see that there was a tanker truck filling the station’s in-ground fuel tanks.  The vapors were so strong that I seriously hoped no-body that smoked would get as close to that station as I was.  I have a healthy fear of fuel from years of experience with it.

As it happens, when I got to work, Scott, a professional engineer, was in to have his Mini serviced.  Scott regularly works with the fuel refineries in the valley.  I relayed the fuel station story to Scott to get his opinion on the matter.

My beef was with the double-standard that I apparently tripped over.  Modern passenger vehicles have expensive and sophisticated emission controls to strictly ensure your vehicle emits little to no raw-fuel vapors into the atmosphere.  The reason is simple – raw fuel is essentially unchecked hydrocarbons – a controlled emission responsible for smog and ozone pollution.

Fuel vapor controls (more commonly known as evaporative controls) on vehicles typically cost hundreds to diagnose and repair.  A modern vehicle with a leak as small as a pin-prick with cause its check-engine light to come on.  We service these systems regularly at Integrity First Automotive.

My question to Scott was why would the State allow this fuel-station filling process to emit such huge quantities of fuel vapors when vehicle owners are so tightly regulated.  This one gas-station filling incident probably let more raw fuel vapors into Utah’s atmosphere than thousands, possibly tens-of-thousands of Utah motorist do in a year.

Scott wasn’t moved.  He knew of a much worse pollutant:  the burn-off stacks in Utah’s refineries.  (You’ve probably seen one in the Woods-Cross area as you’ve driven I-15 just north of downtown Salt Lake City.)  According to Scott these stacks burn unrefined materials and do not have any emission controls.  As a result they produce large quantities of pollution.

I’m not the engineer Scott is but I have to wonder about the priorities of law-makers and regulators that allow this inconsistency to exist.  Scott was quick to point out that California has stricter legislation for these ‘industrial’ polluters.  

Obama’s changes in Washington threaten to make vehicle production and ownership a much more costly experience for vehicle owners.  I feel most vehicle owners want to be responsible citizens who don’t pollute unnecessary. 

What I’d like to see from legislators is a ‘open book’ profile of the different sources of pollution and where passenger vehicles are on the scale.  Hopefully then everyone can see sensible solutions.  Certainly controlling fuel vapors at Utah gas stations during tank-filling should be on that list!